Optimal Tax Progressivity: An Analytical Framework

77 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2014 Last revised: 17 May 2023

See all articles by Jonathan Heathcote

Jonathan Heathcote

Minneapolis Fed

Kjetil Storesletten

University of Minnesota

Giovanni L. Violante

New York University (NYU) - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: February 2014

Abstract

What shapes the optimal degree of progressivity of the tax and transfer system? On the one hand, a progressive tax system can counteract inequality in initial conditions and substitute for imperfect private insurance against idiosyncratic earnings risk. At the same time, progressivity reduces incentives to work and to invest in skills, and aggravates the externality associated with valued public expenditures. We develop a tractable equilibrium model that features all of these trade-offs. The analytical expressions we derive for social welfare deliver a transparent understanding of how preferences, technology, and market structure parameters influence the optimal degree of progressivity. A calibration for the U.S. economy indicates that endogenous skill investment, flexible labor supply, and the externality linked to valued government purchases play quantitatively similar roles in limiting desired progressivity.

Suggested Citation

Heathcote, Jonathan and Storesletten, Kjetil and Violante, Giovanni L., Optimal Tax Progressivity: An Analytical Framework (February 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w19899, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2396725

Jonathan Heathcote (Contact Author)

Minneapolis Fed ( email )

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United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.jonathanheathcote.com

Kjetil Storesletten

University of Minnesota ( email )

10 University Avenue
Duluth, MN 55810
United States

Giovanni L. Violante

New York University (NYU) - Department of Economics ( email )

269 Mercer Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10011
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

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